A career as a police officer can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Most police officers derive great satisfaction from knowing that their efforts have made society safer and more secure, but there is the ever-present risk that a criminal may injure or kill them while they are serving the public. In order to minimize these risks, police officers are expected to possess exceptional skills that allow them to avoid unnecessary hazards.
Local police organizations have developed standards for selecting ideal law enforcement officers. These qualifications enable officers to evaluate situations quickly and reliably, formulate appropriate responses to a wide variety of circumstances and implement them with a high degree of success. These police officer requirements may appear overly demanding, but they have been developed so that officers can be prepared for the threats they will encounter.
General Police Academy Requirements and Disqualifiers
All departments establish and maintain their own police academy requirements and qualifications; so interested candidates are advised to consult department-specific resources for qualification standards and disqualifying factors. This list represents the general requirements and disqualifiers for police academy eligibility, although it is not an exhaustive list and is not representative of qualifications maintained by all police departments:
- At least 21 years at the time of police academy graduation
- No misdemeanor convictions within the three years prior to applying
- Valid driver’s license
- United States citizenship
- No felony convictions
- No DWI convictions in the five years prior to applying
- No domestic violence convictions
- Sixty credit hours from an accredited college or university (College credit requirements may be waived for those with at least three years of military service and an honorable discharge)
Physical Fitness Requirements
The first component of officer fitness is the physical capability to perform the many duties expected of any law enforcement professional. While different police organizations emphasize various attributes, almost all require top physical condition for their officers. At the top of most police requirements is stamina. Not only will heightened endurance help officers pursue and subdue individuals, but it also contributes to a higher level of performance during the long hours that police may have to remain on duty. A heightened endurance enables officers to remain aware of their immediate surroundings, which can help them identify threats and respond appropriately.
Strength is also an important requirement of police officers. Officers often must wrestle unruly subjects into handcuffs, which requires upper body strength coupled with flawless technique. Physical strength is also necessary for many life-threatening situations like conveying an injured comrade to safety.
Dexterity and coordination are critical to police service. The ability to properly discharge and reload a firearm is contingent upon the dexterity of the officer. In many cases, the lives of officers and bystanders are dependent upon the ability to properly aim and fire a weapon at a dangerous individual.
The ability to analyze a situation and formulate a response strategy is critical to job performance. It is possible to possess such life-saving skills naturally, but most police officers develop their cognitive skills through education and training. Education at the collegiate level emphasizes critical skills like problem solving, analytical thinking, and logic, which is why so many police agencies are willing to incentivize college graduates to apply for positions.
Many prospective police officers opt instead for law enforcement training. Many two year and four year colleges now offer degree programs in criminal justice that can help prepare individuals for the rigors of law enforcement duty. There are also numerous schools that offer shortened training programs that are modeled on police academies and can provide instruction in basic law enforcement concepts and procedures.
For professionals who possess a master’s degree or a doctorate, many police organizations place a premium on highly educated specialists in specific areas like psychology, computer science and forensics.
It is important to recognize that these mental skills may be developed while on the job or through ongoing education. Most police departments expect their officers to continuously gain knowledge and skills that will enable them to better perform their responsibilities. Promotion and selection into highly desirable departments is usually contingent upon this type of skill acquisition.
Within the dynamic environment of law enforcement there are numerous opportunities to betray the public trust. These actions, however, can significantly undermine the organization’s ability to perform its duties. Law enforcement authorities can successfully operate within their communities only because they have earned the respect and trust of its members.
In order to preserve these valuable relationships, police agencies emphasize moral character in their officers. Police organizations screen their candidates carefully to ensure that only those with integrity, leadership and dependability are admitted. These organizations often conduct exhaustive investigations into the backgrounds of their candidates to ensure that they have not committed any crimes or ethically questionable activities. The character of candidates is often researched by questioning family, friends, employers and co-workers. Even minor disagreements and isolated incidents of financial irresponsibility can be damaging to a candidate’s selection prospects. The polygraph examination that most police organizations require is also used to evaluate the truthfulness and moral fiber of candidates.
Character is also important to the organization itself. The lives of fellow officers may be in the hands of a law enforcement professional, so it is of paramount importance that they have confidence in the judgment and actions of each other. Like the military, police officers work in partnerships and team settings that demand that individuals consistently perform their responsibilities with the highest regard for one another. This respect is critical for effective police work and is essential for career advancement.